Monday, March 02, 2015

Fish as Tangible Objects

It's come to this.  Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that fish are not tangible objects. In doing so, they remanded a case that had been sent to them on appeal.  It's a convoluted tale of a fisherman catching undersized fish, a federal officer finding them, then the fisherman throwing them overboard, destroying the evidence, and his being convicted in federal court of destroying the evidence.

It seems pretty clear-cut to me, but not to the esteemed legal minds on our highest bench.  No, in a split 5-4 decision (Chief Justice Roberts joining), they have declared that fish are not tangible objects. I'm sure that this will come as some surprise to the fish.  It certainly comes as a surprise to me.  However, Madam Justice Ginsberg says that words might mean on thing in one context and something else entirely in another context.
In the Yates case, the majority decided that the term “tangible object” should be interpreted in the context of Sarbanes-Oxley, a statute aimed at preventing the disposal of records, documents, and other items that preserve information. Writing for herself and three colleagues, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg acknowledged fish might sometimes be understood to be tangible objects. “Ordinarily,” she wrote, “a word’s usage accords with its dictionary definition. In law as in life, however, the same words, placed in different contexts, sometimes mean different things.” In this context, she added, Congress didn’t intend to punish rogue fishermen under Sarbanes-Oxley.
Mr. Justice Roberts joined that opinion, which speaks volumes to the man's credibility as a sharp thinker.  Words have meaning.  While I agree that Congress might not have intended to prosecute fishemen under Sarbannes-Oxley, the idea that fish are not tangible objects is laughable on its face.

Regular readers will remember my contempt for the Chief Justice.  Appointed by President Bush as a stalwart conservative, the man sided with the administration on the Obamacare case, telling us that a tax was not a tax, or some such nonsense. The intervening years have done nothing to temper my distain for the man.   Now we learn that  a fish is not a tangible object.  We've entered the age of newspeak.

This may not mean much to you, and may be viewed as a whimsical distration, until you realize that later this week, the court will hear arguments in King v Burwell, which hinges on the language of the Afforable Care Act (Obamacare), and whether legislative language means what it says.  Granted, if the Court comes down on the side of plain English, that ruling might gut the law in about half the states.  That should not concern the Court, but in Roberts case, nothing is as it seems to be.  He'll do backflips and cartwheels to please his masters.

So, the Administration has nothing to fear from Roberts, who pays fealty to liberal principles, ignores common English, and doesn't own a dictionary.  Words only mean what the Court says they mean.  Today, in this context.  Those same words might mean something completely different next week.

I fart in the general direction direction of the Roberts court.  If I ever get the opportunity, I intend to piss down his leg.

1 comment:

Titan Mk6B said...

I don't hear a lot of bellyaching on this issue from the White House so I figure the fix is in.